The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has announced that it will publish its ruling on Tuesday, November 10 on the application of ten journalists and executives of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper in response to their extended pretrial detention over articles and social media posts critical of the government.
The ten applicants, who were placed in pretrial detention in November 2016, include IPI Turkey National Committee chair and Executive Board member Kadri Gürsel, as well as Murat Sabuncu, Akın Atalay, Önder Çelik, Turhan Günay, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Hakan Karasinir, Hacı Musa Kart, Güray Tekin Öz, and Bülent Utku.
The journalists were detained on suspicions that the daily was promoting and disseminating propaganda on behalf of several terrorist organizations including the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and FETÖ/PDY, which the Turkish government claims is responsible for the 2016 failed coup attempt.
In bringing their case, the applicants alleged violations of their rights to liberty and security, including the right to a speedy review of the lawfulness of their detention (Article 5 §§ 1, 3 and 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and freedom of expression (Article 10). The applicants also allege that Turkey violated Article 18 of the Convention, which bars states from restricting rights for illegitimate aims, in this case, to punish the applicants for their criticism. If the Court finds a violation of Article 18, it would be the third such ruling regarding Turkey in recent times, following the cases of philanthropist and human rights activist Osman Kavala (imprisoned for 1100 days) and Selahattin Demirtaş, former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish opposition party HDP (imprisoned for 1460 days).
In October 2017, 13 international press freedom and freedom of expression organizations including IPI submitted a joint third-party intervention in support of the journalists’ application to the ECtHR.
IPI Head of Europe Advocacy and Programmes Oliver Money-Kyrle said the 10 journalists, on trial since 2016, had been subject to “never-ending harassment by a politicized court system in Turkey”.
Seven out of the ten applicants were released in July 2017. The remaining three journalists – Kadri Gürsel, Murat Sabuncu and Akın Atalay – were released by April 2018, when a lower court convicted nine journalists of “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member”. Günay was acquitted of all charges during the final hearing. The remaining defendants filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Cassation.
In the meantime, the journalists also filed individual applications to the Turkish Constitutional Court alleging a breach of their right to liberty and security and their right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. In May 2019 the Constitutional Court found no violation, except in the cases of Gürsel and Günay.
In September 2019, the Turkish Supreme Court of Cassation tossed out the original lower court ruling on the grounds of insufficient evidence and ordered a re-trial first, the hearing of which took place on November 21, 2019. However, the local court voted to re-confirm its previous decision in sentencing eight out of nine journalists and thereby declining to follow the higher court rulings. The local court confirmed the ruling of the Supreme Court of Cassation for Gürsel’s acquittal on the grounds of the Constitutional Court decision of May 2019. The case is once again pending at the regional court of appeal. All defendants remain free.
“The refusal of lower courts to respect the ruling of the Turkish Supreme Court of Cassation is another striking example of the breakdown in the rule of law in Turkey. The ECtHR decision is of the utmost importance as it is the last hope for justice for these wrongfully detained and wrongfully prosecuted journalists”, Money-Kyrle said.